National Geographic : 1968 Jul
The Canadian North: Emerging Giant very soft-spoken one-A. P. Philipsen, presi dent of the Whitehorse Chamber of Com merce. "Anvil Mining Corporation has just started spending $56,000,000 to tap their billion-dollar find of lead and zinc on Ross River. That investment alone beats the first five-year take of the gold rush." By 1969 Anvil's ore will be going to smelt ers in Japan, reaching Pacific tidewater over the railroad that once carried in gold seekers. It already hauls out $30,000,000 worth of asbestos per year, from Cassiar in British Columbia (pages 28-9) and its new sister mine at Clinton Creek in the Yukon. Buffalo Graze on Mineral-rich Lands The rush to exploit the North even seems to go too fast, and too far, for some people. I heard talk, for instance, about mining in Wood Buffalo National Park. Rich ore bodies are thought to underlie this nature reserve in northern Alberta. It definite ly contains the continent's largest deposit of pure gypsum, exposed for all to see; it prob ably also conceals reserves of petroleum. And no doubt there is further treasure, for the park is twice as large as any other national park in the world-almost as large as the entire Province of Nova Scotia. Unfortunately for would-be exploiters, the park is the protected pasture of 12,000 buf falo that Canada rescued from extinction and intends to preserve for posterity. "I think it would be just fine," a man named Ed Olson told me, "if Canada made a survey of mineral wealth in the park. But only against some remote day of national emergency. The North today, and for a lot of tomorrows, has oil and gas and lead and zinc coming out of its ears. "I don't doubt that the park's resources are fabulous. There are miners and oilmen who would just love to get their hands on it. "But you can take something straight from me: They're not going to, if we can help it!" Gray-eyed W. Edward Olson, Superintend ent of Wood Buffalo, is ordinarily a quiet man, when he talks about the hundreds of species of mammals and birds that occupy his 17,300 square-mile domain. The park is also the nesting ground of the whooping crane, that famed species snatched back from the fate of the dodo by the most ardent conservation campaign in history.* Ed Olson's eyes, usually smiling, now were flashing. "The government is going to create more, not fewer, national parks in the North. We're planning to save more of this marvel ous land so that your great-grandchildren and mine can enjoy it in its pristine state." Ed went on to delineate for me some of the things the Canadian Government is planning: a park in the cold, flat, pop-art lakeland of the northern tundra; a park in the snow-covered mountains of the Yukon; a wilderness river park on the South Nahanni River in the Mackenzie Mountains. The Nahanni is almost as mysterious as its Indian name is beautiful. To reach this legendary "River of No Return," where early explorers and prospectors met violent and unexplained deaths, I flew first with bush pilot Paul Slager to the Slavey Indian settle ment of Fort Liard. Paul keeps a gas cache here for flights into the mountains. The weather was bad, and Royal Canadian Mounted Police Cpl. Bob Gilholme and his wife Mary had to help us lash the plane to a tiny, storm-tossed pier on the Liard River. The winds and waves were a bit frightening. Paul and Bob, old friends, lapsed into typical Canadian North colloquialisms. "Pretty poor weather to take off in, eh?" Bob's question was 50 percent statement. "Well, I'm not very fussy about this cross wind like," Paul admitted. "Think you'll take a chance anyway, eh." The statement was 50 percent question. "Mind you, the forecast says the wind will keep up, eh?" Paul grinned and glanced at me: "Ready to give it a try like?" "You're the pilot," I said. "Just remember, I've got a wife and kids at home, eh?" "Hang Tough, This'll Rattle Your Teeth" Bob and Mary pushed us off, and the waves slapped a tom-tom beat against the pontoons. Paul trimmed the bucking plane for take-off, glanced back to see that my cam era cases were tied down, then put the heel of his hand behind the throttle. "Hang tough!" he shouted over the roar of the engine. "This'll rattle your teeth like. I'm not very fussy about these ones!" I'm not so fussy about those ones myself. And I was hanging even tougher on the next landing. We flew toward the Mackenzie Mountains, then up the Nahanni River into *See "Whooping Cranes Fight for Survival," by Rob ert Porter Allen, with photographs by Frederick Kent Truslow, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, November, 1959.